Our small stories are precious, and this is what we have to do so we will do it.

-Laura Williamson

In late 2020, Liz Breslin, Laura Williamson and Annabel Wilson set out on e-bikes on the Otago Central Rail Trail on a ‘spoke’n’word tour’. We packed amps, mics and notebooks into trailers and pedalled the length of the Rail Trail, performing in the historic halls along the way. A poetry tour like no other: emission-free, muddy and rowdy, against a backdrop of truly elsewhere landscapes.

rail: lines the:film is a documentary of the experience, with footage of the shows in each hall and of the landscapes of the Rail Trail, overlaid with conversation, with poems and with original music by Laura Williamson and Angela Mote. It will spin your wheels.

In Aotearoa New Zealand, as elsewhere, cycling is often called the invention that has given (white, middle- and upper-class) women freedom. But we can’t be what we don’t see. Women at our shows and on the trail commented that they wouldn’t know where to start with what we did.

Of the more than seventy poem documentaries in NZ on Screen’s archives, only a handful feature women. rail:lines the:film works to redress this, by adding our poems and those of other poets to the archive. It also counters Aotearoa New Zealand’s ‘South Island Myth’ that our rural landscapes are only populated by rugged men on horseback in farming hats.  Our performed poems and conversations function as oral histories for the archive.

Our collective approach means we tell nuanced, not single, stories. We have been collaborating together for over a decade, know each other’s work intimately, and have built a local ‘scene’ through our efforts. rail:lines the:film is a celebration of the scene, and the scenery and the spoke’n’word.

The film premiered in Aotearoa New Zealand at Ōtautahi Christchurch’s WORD 2021 Festival and toured in 2022 to Ōtepoti Dunedin, Wānaka and at the Queenstown Writers Festival. We also hosted a virtual screening for the When Words Collide Festival (Alberta, Canada) in 2021 and were featured at the Wānaka’s Wao Film Festival in 2023.

We usually present the 25-minute film within a show, where we spin the poem wheel for the audience, as we did on the tour, and then read the poems they pick from the wheel like spokey dokeys. (If you spin the wheel you get to keep the poem.) This is a very customisable format, and we’ve done shows from 50 minutes to two hours in this way. It’s fun and engaging for audiences. One young woman from Ōtepoti wrote to us afterwards,

“I really really enjoyed the evening, as did the whānau. The film was gorgeous, I’d love to see it again if you upload it anywhere. The poems were gripping and visual and fun and thought-provoking. A kind of feeling-transfer akin to what I get from Margaret Atwood, but achieved far quicker!”